DMCA Agent Interview: Servint’s Mike Witty

This is the first in what I am hoping will be a series of interviews with DMCA agents and other abuse admins at Web hosts aimed at better understanding how hosts respond to DMCA and other abuse complaints as well as the types of problems they are seeing and what content creators can do to help. If you are a DMCA agent and would like to be interviewed, please contact me. Also, if you are interested to hear Mike’s thoughts on security, check out the other part of this interview over at WhoIsHostingThis.

Servint is a well-known and respected VPS host that not only hosts Plagiarism Today but also is home to several smaller Web hosting companies. Based out of McLean, VA, the company, like all U.S. hosts, is bound by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and has to respond appropriately to notices of copyright infringement and have a designated agent for receiving such requests.

Mike Witty is that person. Recently appointed the Director of Network Compliance after a decade of service to Servint, Witty oversees a team of 4-5 to handle DMCA, abuse and security for the entire company, which includes thousands of physical servers spread across two datacenters.

I sat down recently to talk with him about the DMCA, how it operates at his company and what, if anything, DMCA filers can do from their end to help speed the process along and help them deal with these issues quicker and more effectively.

Servint’s DMCA Process

According to Witty, there is a great deal of ebb and flow to the number of notices that they receive. Some weeks it can be extremely dead, with just one or two notices, other weeks it can be much higher, up to 4, 5 or more. Since they only offer VPS services, they don’t see a great deal of spam blogs or people abusing the accounts to distribute copyrighted works, it just doesn’t make financial sense, but they do see a fair amount of notices regarding resellers of their service who have created smaller hosts by carving up their VPS.

But despite the relatively low numbers, at least when compared to many shared hosts, Witty makes it clear that they take DMCA notices extremely seriously.

“As with anything involves lawyers and the threats of lawsuits, we have to take these notices seriously and we have a protocol in place for when we receive them,” Witty said.

The first step when they receive a DMCA notice is to make sure that it is an actual Servint issue. Sometimes filers get confused and file notices against Servint for content that is not on their network. In those cases, Witty will try to help the filer find the right person to contact.

Once it is determined to be a Servint customer, the notice is evaluated by himself and by attorneys to make sure that it is complete and complete. If it isn’t, according to Witty, they send the notice back to the filer with instructions to resubmit. However, they continue to work on the case assuming that the person is going to return and refile the notice very shortly.

This includes bringing it to the client’s attention and warning that the notice will likely be refiled. Many clients simply remove the content at this point, regardless of if the notice is refiled. Either way, the majority do refile their notices and, once the validity is confirmed, they move to acting on the claim.

They first open up a trouble ticket for the case and notify the client about the notice. They require the client to remove the allegedly infringing material within a window of time and, according to Witty, “99 times out of 100, they do.”

In the rare cases where the client doesn’t remove the content they will either go in themselves if they can (for example an image file on the server) or, if it’s not possible, diable the account. However, those results are extremely rare.

According to Witty, very few clients contest cases and, interestingly, most of the DMCA notices they handle deal with misused images, not text or multimedia content. The average time between when a DMCA notice is filed and the ticket is closed is 2-3 days though many are resolved within 24 hours.

So how can copyright holders help speed up the DMCA process? Witty had several tips that might be able to help you get protect your work faster and easier.

Helping DMCA Agents, Getting Better Results

If you file DMCA notices regularly, or even just occasionally, you probably want to make sure that you get the quickest resolution with the least amount of headache possible. On that note, Witty had several suggestions for copyright holders could help him with his job.

  1. Put the Notice in DMCA Format: The biggest slowdown for people whole make copyright complaints is that they do not put the notice in the proper format. Either use a good stock letter or otherwise make sure that your notice has all the required elements.
  2. Avoid Phone Calls: With so many legal implications of filing a DMCA notice Witty tries to avoid phone calls and encourages those filing notices to do the same. It’s better to have a paper trail of everything that is said and done.
  3. Show Respect for the DMCA Agent: Remember though the agent represents the infringer’s host, they are not responsible for the infringement. Being cooperative and showing professional courtesy and a cooperative spirit makes them more willing to help you and the entire experience smoother as there is no time wasted bickering or explaining.
  4. Close the Loop: Once a case has been resolved, please let the agent know. This lets them close the trouble ticket and confirm that the matter has been handled to your satisfaction. Not only does it give the agent a sense of personal satisfaction, but it ensures that the trouble ticket system isn’t cluttered with closed cases.

Though most of these tips are pretty straightforward and are things I’ve talked about on here before, they are still steps that many DMCA filers omit when sending notices and thus bear repeating.

If you obey these rules, most likely you’ll find that your DMCA case is handled quickly and painlessly. According to Witty, one of the top priorities of Servint in DMCA matters is to treat the filer with respect and make sure that they know a human being is handling the case. This is why they send personal emails (after the initial confirmation) and attach names to every reply.

Respond in kind and, according to Witty, there probably won’t be any issues at all.

Bottom Line

In my experience, Witty’s story is a fairly typical one from DMCA agents. All in all, their policies are fairly typical and, based on what he has said, work very well. They have a fairly complicated networking environment with reseller hosts and they seem to handle things very well.

As someone who does consulting services for hosts on DMCA issues, Servint definitely appears to be a good example for others to follow, doing what they can to balance everyone’s rights and interests while resolving disputes quickly.

If only other hosts were as cooperative or as helpful as Servint is…

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